Wednesday, Jan. 6, was a day that will live in infamy. It was a day of carnage, over-the-top emotions, verbal assaults, and rancor of which I have not seen in a long time, at least not since last summer. And there was also something going on in Washington, D.C.
The images of people breaking windows and prying themselves through the doors of the U.S. Capitol, pushing the police aside like the defenders of the Alamo was bad enough. But the bloodless — for now — anger and razorwire virtual shouting all over social media tells us we are truly in historic times.
And I was doing so well maintaining a near total news blackout.
I was driving in my car on that fateful day, blissfully ignorant of events going on in the nation’s capital, until I tried to get a traffic report from the local news radio station and caught the tail end of a special news report.
All I heard was, “Vice President Mike Pence was all right and with his Secret Service detail.” I actually pulled over. My first thought was that something very bad had happened. When I got the full report, sitting parked in my car, reading off my smartphone, I realized something bad did happen, just not what I dreaded.
When I got home, I went on Facebook to check the temperature. I would have been better off opening my Bible and reading Proverbs 26:11: “As a dog that returneth to his vomit, so is the fool that repeateth his folly.”
Social media was red hot. There was a lot of heat but very little light. It was like a virtual riot, as people slammed into one another with caustic tweets and responses and more elaborate experiments in political science. No one was spared.
When the U.S. Bishops’ Conference chimed in on the fiasco in Washington, people piled on with virulent rebuttals (which is a nice way of saying they were full of spit and vinegar). No one was listening. They were just waiting for the last person to stop typing so they could return fire of their own.
And then for me, the real massacre began. I have never unfriended so many people in one day in my life. The level of hyperbole and viciousness was overwhelming. It was so bad I was never tempted, as I have been before, to leap into this mob like people used to dive into the crowd off the stage at punk rock concerts. Like the one punk rock concert I attended — all I wanted was out.
I made no great public announcement signaling my own unique virtue to any of the “unfriended.” Such a bad word. I like all the people I purged from my list and in a different format and a different context I will continue to enjoy their company — I hope. But I’m really not sure anymore. With regard to social media, I just quietly slipped out the Facebook back door and called it a day.
In the end, we are still short on facts and long on emotions. Like all news stories, I firmly believe that what we think we know about what happened will not be what we think happened in a week, a month, or a year from now. More information will come to light. Some of our predilections will be affirmed and others will be challenged. But in the end, I firmly believe I will be left with a hollow feeling of never being sure what exactly is the truth.
The power we have all voluntarily handed over to the genie out of the bottle that is the social network is growing exponentially. Two minutes on Facebook will tell you all you need to know about the toxic levels of fear, anger, and hostility emanating from every manifestation of the American political phylum.
If you posted, “The sky is blue” you are liable to be called “colorist.”
If you are a bishop or a pope, you will be praised and cursed in equal measure.
And topping off the last several days of social media rampaging, there was a report that Pope Francis had been arrested and that the lights were out at the Vatican. I promise you there were more people than you want to contemplate who believed every sentence of those falsehoods.
The truth of the matter now is that the truth of any matter is now perennially in doubt. People will either be getting only information that reinforces their already intransigent beliefs. Or worse, maybe, they won’t be getting information unseen forces don’t want them to see.
We don’t need Adam Smith or Karl Marx and we certainly don’t need 280 characters like Twitter demands. We need Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, combined with good priests and courageous bishops. Armed thus, with the truth, and led by true shepherds, we will concern ourselves with breaking into heaven.